Friday, 27 March 2015

Terrans, Venusians And Spoilers

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

Terrans meet Venusians. (My computer recognizes neither of those nouns.) I would prefer to write that Earthmen or Terrestrials meet Venerians but must quote the terminology used in the particular text that I am reading. (My computer recognizes neither "Earthmen" nor "Venerians.")

"Terran" is a piece of jargon exclusive to sf (I think?) although Poul Anderson invested it with considerable authority by writing about a Terran Empire. However, his "Terran" is a translation from Anglic and can equally be rendered as "Terrestrial." Further, his Empire began as a conventional setting for pulp space opera but became instead the subject of serious speculation about the decline of civilizations. See here. Thus, Anderson transformed the Terran Empire - just as Alan Moore changed the Swamp Thing from a conventional monster to a plant elemental and also changed Marvelman from a conventional superhero to a Nietzschean Messiah. Creative writers transform received ideas, either avoiding cliches or changing them into their opposites.

"Venusian" is like "Marsian" or "Jupiterian," not taking into account the Latin roots; Vener-, Mart-, Jov-. (Although I critique some of Stirling's terminological usages, his contributions to alternative history fiction are highly original, as I hope these posts show.)

I post as I read, taking us well into Spoiler Alert territory.

(i) Excruciatingly Etonian Christopher turns out to be French spy, Christophe. (We can usually rely on humanity to export its imperialisms.)

(ii) We are told that there are Martians as well as Venusians (p. 93).

(iii) We learn that one group of natives has access to higher tech and, as part of this, we read something that reminds us of The Peshawar Lancers:

"'The Cave Master can show you what has been, and what will be - and what might be.'" (p. 91)

Indeed. An alternative history fiction can merely be set inside an alternative history or can also refer to alternative histories. The Sky People has begun to do the latter.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    I think you made a small error here, saying "However, his "Terran" is a translation from Anglic..." Actually, "Terra" is the Latin word for "Earth." And "Terran" is how people of the Terran Empire would describe either subjects of the Empire in general, humans in the Empire, or actual residents of Terra/Earth. And, what they called "Terran" some in our time would call "Earth men/people."

    I prefer Anderson's "Terra/Terran," as being less clunky and awkward than "Earth men/people."

    Apologies for this bit of pedantry! Sean

  2. Sean,
    Of course "Terra" (noun) is Latin but I think that "Terran" (adjective) is English jargon used only in sf?

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Yes, I agree that "Terran" was coined by SF writers such as Poul Anderson as a science fictional adjective. But, it's so useful an adjective that it might well pass into Enlish (or Anglic?) as a real world word.


  3. A little sidelight I find amusing: Andre Norton's *Star Guard* refers to "Terrans," but the back-cover blurb on at least one edition called them "Earthmen" -- however, Edmond Hamilton's space-opera *Starwolf Trilogy* speaks throughout of "Earthmen," but the back-cover text on the omnibus edition used the term "Terran."

  4. Replies
    1. Dear Mr. Birr:

      I actually read some of Andre Norton's books as a boy! But I don't recall ever reading her STAR GUARD. Dang! Guess I should start looking up some of her books again!